Food Safety First – GFSI Conference Outlines The Challenge Facing Retail And CPG

By Steve Wynne-Jones
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Food Safety First – GFSI Conference Outlines The Challenge Facing Retail And CPG

From a food safety perspective, it's been a year like no other, and while this year's GFSI Conference took place in a virtual setting for the first time, the topics discussed therein were arguably more important than ever at this critical time.

Hosted by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), part of the Consumer Goods Forum, the conference, which took place from 23-25 March, is the leading international forum for retailers and consumer goods manufacturers to discuss food safety principles and plan future actions, and the title of this year's event, Rethink, Reset, Recharge, captured the mood that leading food safety professionals currently found themselves in.

The COVID-19 crisis has reshaped how everybody involved in the grocery landscape thinks about food safety, and those at the coalface, namely retailers and suppliers, will be the ones shaping a new future once the pandemic subsides.

This year's conference also saw the rebranding of the GFSI as a Coalition of Action in the Consumer Goods Forum's umbrella network, with a new steering committee put in place to accelerate improvement in the area of food safety and help feed the world's growing population. Elsewhere, the virtual setting proved a talking point, with delegates able to create an avatar using a digital wardrobe, and network in one of the conference's social areas. ESM was a media partner for this year's event.

Setting The Tone

The importance of the event in terms of setting the tone for the year ahead from a food safety perspective was underlined in the opening address by Qu Dongyu, director general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, who called on those in the trade to leverage a wide variety of partners, including the private sector, to "ensure that food is delivered more sustainably" than in the past. "Let's roll up our sleeves and work together," he said.


The previous year's GFSI Conference took place in Seattle in February 2020, just before the global pandemic hit, and thus much of the first day of the event was spent discussing how the retail and consumer goods sector has adapted to the new normal, and what learnings can be taken from this.

This included an examination of the role that the Race To The Top Framework, a key part of the GFSI ecosystem that seeks to improve trust, transparency and confidence in GFSI-recognised certification and audit procedures, can play in developing markets – those that are "looking for an opportunity to break through", as Kroger's Howard Popoola put it.

The embrace of online was alto under the spotlight, with an interesting panel discussion on day one taking in insight from HelloFresh, Amazon and Alibaba-owned Freshippo. As last year led to so much restructuring of the supply chain, how have online specialists such as these ensured that food safety matters are met?

As Amazon's Caroline Easterbrook noted, the "most pioneering approach" is how the firm is blending high performance with food safety metrics, as well as being able to "intake and ingest" the information coming from the firm's many millions of consumers, and turn this into actionable information for the food safety team.


Technology also featured strongly in a discussion of how 'resiliency and technology' will help engender consumer trust and mitigate disruption over the course of the coming decades, which took place on day two, and featured contributions from Nestlé, Cargill and Ecolab. As Nestlé's Natasa Matayasova put it, COVID has "accelerated enormously" the adoption of technology, with the food giant incorporating new technologies into its food safety analysis and predictive analytics, "to predict and eradicate [any issues] before they become a problem".

Supply Chain Focus

Supply chain efficiency was another talking point – a plenary discussion entitled Keeping Food Moving: Supply Chain Disruptions In The Time Of COVID-19 examined the ways the public and private sectors have come together to maintain a safe food supply chain during a heavily disrupted year.

As GS1 UK's Chris Tyas noted in this discussion, the level to which the retail sector was able to restructure itself around e-commerce – "akin to five years of change in just three months" – as well as work alongside farming communities to repurpose high-quality meat destined for the closed HoReCa channel, was little short of unprecedented. "The challenge will be how well we are able to retain that collective problem solving after the pandemic is over," he said.

Supply chain transparency was also touched upon on day two, with Professor Christopher Hodges of Oxford University and Helena Leurent of Consumers International expanding upon the GFSI's mission to engender trust among stakeholders. "Transparency is essential in order to build trust," Hodges noted, adding that "relevant, reliable, audited evidence" needs to underpin this.


To this end, and to help achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals by their 2030 deadline, GFSI has developed a new code of ethical conduct which is embedded in the newly crafted GFSI Governance rules and which will bind all stakeholders in the food safety ecosystem.

Building Trust

The Word Health Organisation has been at the forefront of the fight against coronavirus for more than a year now, and thus an appearance from Dr. Naoko Yamamoto, assistant director-general at the WHO, on the second day of the Conference, was a timely one. As she explained, the food industry's role in supporting public health around the world should not be underestimated.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has been an exceptional challenge to public health and food systems and everyone in the world, but it has also been an opportunity to reimagine safer, more resilient and sustainable food systems," she explained. "We need to seek more collaborative approaches to be inclusive and innovative when working across sectors to achieve food safety."

For more information on the work of the Consumer Goods Forum, visit

© 2021 European Supermarket Magazine – your source for the latest retail news. Article by Stephen Wynne-Jones. Click subscribe to sign up to ESM: European Supermarket Magazine.

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